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Republicans, Democrats Aren't That Far Apart, Study Says

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, listening last week as President Obama (a Democrat) gave his State of the Union address.
Saul Loeb/pool
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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, listening last week as President Obama (a Democrat) gave his State of the Union address.

If creatures from another planet are listening in on what our politicians and pundits have to say, they might think Democrats and Republicans are about as far apart politically as possible.

But there's new research that supports what many people already suspect: Most "real" Republicans and Democrats (that is, average Americans who have busy lives and aren't running for office or talking on TV), aren't that different when it comes to politics.

"Republicans and Democrats are less divided in their attitudes than popularly believed," according to researchers who on Friday presented a paper at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's annual meeting in San Diego.

According to the society, data from "the American National Election Studies, a large survey of American's political attitudes and voting behaviors from 1948 to 2008 funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and from a nationally representative sample of American adults from 2008," show that "the actual gap between the parties' political attitudes has not increased substantially over time and that members of both parties have consistently overestimated the size of that gap."

The researchers add that:

"We found ... : (a) the actual Red-Blue divide has increased relatively little over the past 40 years; (b) people consistently overestimate the magnitude of the Red-Blue divide; (c) ideological extremists, those strongly identified as Republicans and Democrats, perceive a greater Red-Blue divide compared with ideological moderates; (d) perceptions of the Red-Blue divide are associated with greater political involvement such as voting and campaign contributions, independent of ideological extremity. The Red-Blue divide is therefore illusory but important."

We wonder:

(Note: That's just a question, not a scientific survey.)

Of course, if researchers really want to explore the issue of how far apart politically some Americans are, they might want to take a look at the bitter battle underway for the Republican presidential nomination. (Reminder: the crucial Florida primary is Tuesday; join us over at It's All Politics tomorrow night for live blogging of the results.)

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.